Contributed by Department of Natural Resources Staff Steve Cooke of Noblesville is one of countless Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience success stories. The sixth annual event, sponsored by Central Indiana Ford Dealers, is Sept. 20 and 21 at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. Admission is free, as are parking and all activities. Cooke attended the first event in 2009 with the goal of learning about fly-fishing. He took a brief lesson and was hooked. He followed up with professional lessons from Patti Beasley of Reel Women Reel Men fly club in Indianapolis. He now fishes the White River in Central Indiana for panfish and Brookville Lake’s tailwaters on the Whitewater River in southeastern Indiana for trout. “Fly-fishing is my outlet,” Cooke said. “I like the serenity of being in nature.” Organized by the Department of Natural Resources and Indiana Natural Resources Foundation, this is Indiana’s largest hands-on outdoor recreation event. Last year a record 32,000 people participated. The idea is to get more Hoosiers interested in outdoor recreation. The concept came about because nationwide participation rates in many traditional outdoor sports have been declining. In Indiana, the number of licensed hunters and anglers has remained relatively stable over the past few decades. This sounds comforting, said Bourke Patton, director of the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation, until you consider that the number hasn’t kept pace with the state’s overall population growth. Conservationists worry that if the trend isn’t reversed, fewer Americans will care about protecting natural resources. “The whole point is to get people to embrace the outdoors,” Patton said. “It’s about taking people who have little outdoor knowledge, or even no outdoor knowledge, and showing them what’s available and how to do it.” Although fly-fishing is not part of this year’s event, about 50 other outdoor activities will be offered by some 120 grassroots organizations. All activities take place in the 1,700-acre state park. Activities available will range from archery to mountain biking, and more. Trolleys from the State Fair roll through the grounds, and activities are clustered to make each stop action-packed. Information on trolley routes, a listing of all events, and directions to parking areas, can be found at HoosierOutdoorExperience.IN.gov. While it’s not required, visitors are encouraged to register at the website before they attend. This helps in planning the event. The programming is essentially the same both days. Participants are welcome to come either or both days. Horseback riding is one of the most popular activities at the Experience, but space is limited. To register for ride times, visit the saddle barn during the event on the day you wish to ride. There will be both a morning and an afternoon sign-up period. The reservation window will open at 10 a.m. to fill the available morning slots, and then again at 1:15 p.m. to fill the afternoon slots. Visitors should expect lines. Cooke plans to attend the 2014 Ford Hoosier Outdoor Experience with his daughters, ages 9 and 5, to see what other outdoor sports are out there. “It’s always on my calendar,” he said. Make sure it’s on yours, too.